Trigger Warning: rape and sexual assault.
Members of the administration, the Office of Health Promotion and a number of student organizations hosted a movie screening and panel discussion about the University’s processes for dealing with sexual assault accusations at Harland Cinema on Wednesday night.
Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair and Senior Associate Vice President of the Division of Campus Life and Title IX Coordinator Carolyn Livingston participated as panelists. The Respect Program, Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (SAPA), Grads Against Violence and the Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) hosted the discussion.
The film, which runs for an hour and a half, featured interviews with a number of female college students about their experiences of reporting rape and sexual assault cases at their universities.
About 10 students showed up for the film, so the group decided to have a more informal discussion for the panel portion of the event.
After the film, Nair reflected on his immediate thoughts.
“I’d like to say that Emory is immune from all of it,” Nair said. “We are a really progressive community, we are a community of care, but every institution is vulnerable.”
Livingston agreed that the reality is that things happen on campuses that no one knows about.
“We aren’t a perfect institution,” Livingston said.
The panelists primarily discussed the ways the Emory community responds to and raises awareness about sexual assault cases.
The group also discussed the importance of student activism in addressing rape culture. Nair noted “how important it is to create partnerships with students” and added that he does not think the University has fully capitalized on those relationships.
A student attendee, College freshman Tammany Grant, lamented the low attendance at sexual assault awareness events, such as this one and Take Back The Night.
“We don’t talk about rape culture as much as we need to,” Grant said.
Some students attempted to answer why many students are not involved in activism regarding sexual assault.
College senior and ASAP Vice President Jane Singer said she thought that many students don’t understand that sexual violence is occurring to people they know on their campus.
Others thought that many of the events draw students who are already active in these issues and thus preach to the choir.
Grant also commented on the fact that the film did not address enough of a variety of cases, as many cases represent a grey area.
Other students also were concerned that the video contained only the stories of cis-gendered white women and wondered what Emory was doing to access all identities.
Livingston responded that her office solicited a variety of voices, including those from the Student Government Association (SGA), Resident Hall Association (RHA) and the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Life, when they wrote the newest version of the sexual misconduct policy.
“I think it’s the strongest policy we’ve ever had,” Livingston said.
The group also discussed why it is that students never hear about punishments for sexual violence.
Livingston said that Emory does not publicize the consequences of cases because Emory is such a small school. However, she confirmed that over the last few years students have been expelled and suspended.
According to Livingston, this year 14 sexual assault cases went through investigation.
In regards to reporting cases, the discussion turned to why there is only a 48-hour period the morning after an assault to report it.
While Livingston said the purpose of the rule is to address imminent threats to the community, Grant argued that since a tiny portion of the student body perpetrates the majority of assaults, they should be considered an imminent threat long after the 48-hour period.
Nair assured the students that he is committed to eradicating sexual assault on this campus, adding that he brings up the topic at every speech and staff meeting.
“Hopefully we will have fewer perpetrators [who] will come to Emory’s campus in the first place,” he said.
Students who attended the panel thought it showed that Emory is headed in the right direction in regards to eliminating sexual assault.
“I walked away from the discussion very optimistic that Emory will be a leader in sexual violence prevention and response in the future,” Singer said.
College freshman Ashley Brown agreed that Emory has improved its climate even if they are subtle changes and stressed the importance of continued activism.
“These organizations need to hold their heads high even when it seems like they’re not reaching the community,” Brown said. “We all need to encourage each other to keep going.”
— By Rupsha Basu